Saturday, June 13, 2015

Musings of being a stay-at-home dad (kind of) and attempting to be an adult

I have now been home, without a paying job for more than 18 months.  The time slipped away from me faster than I would have anticipated.  Many, many, MANY days just dragged on mercilessly while I held an unhappy child (unless I was holding him, of course, then he was happy) and attempted to keep up with school, housework, and car maintenance.  Not to mention the occasional play/musical for a date night with my wife, a few appointments, my book reading, home teaching and other ecclesiastical callings, a couple of shows available on Netflix, and the occasional Lego project.  With all this in mind, my blogging and journal writing have suffered a severe drop.  I once thought I would fill a particular journal within a couple of months.  That was over 5 years ago and it still remains incomplete.  I haven't always visited my families within the area.  I haven't kept up with old friends as I would like to.  I've nearly missed getting tickets to a couple of plays.  Exercise routines are started and stopped with alacrity.  My grades aren't always what they could be, if I'd sacrifice some time studying (both of an academic and a religious nature), cleaning, researching possible fixes for my car (an ongoing struggle), playing with Caleb, snuggle time with my wife, rest needed for a healthy mental state, or an hour or two of a TV show.  And honestly, the one Lego project which has been long-term and long-distance has been collecting my bricks which remain with a particular family member.  That project is so low on the priority list that occasionally I'll text or email a list with pieces I'm looking for. Occasionally.  Sometimes (two or three times in a year), I'll pick through the mess personally and find a few pieces I'm looking for.
I hate sacrificing sleep in exchange for academic studies, mostly because I have tried that before.  First thing to go is my ability to focus at work (or in a classroom or lab or wherever I happen to be).  Close behind my focus is my cognitive function.  That poor creature drops like a stone.  I feel as though I have a serious case of dementia. Please don't take offense at that. I know I have no real idea what dementia is like.  I also know that after a couple of days with little sleep and less restful sleep coupled with the stress of studies and exams, I can leave the couch for a glass of water and forget why I left before I've taken 4 steps.  I can put a pen down next to my notebook and lose it for 30 minutes (if I remember what I'm looking for).  I lose so much patience with Caleb that he can easily end up in his crib for a minimum of three hours. Don't worry though.  I give him a sippy with milk, another with water, a pillow and blanket, and I know he can reach some toys and is strong enough to lift them into the crib to ease his boredom. Next goes my mental stamina.  This is the will power which I exert over my desires.  Instead of stopping after 2 cookies, I feel guilty when I notice I've had a dozen and only two are left. I constantly dig into the fridge for yet another snack/meal.  And my resistance to some baser, stereo-typically male desires suffers a tremendous blow.  It takes all my effort to maintain my resistance and keep the desires in check.  Which in turn often causes more sleep deprivation.  Finally, my emotional faculties fail.  Completely.  I can become a sobbing messing, lying on the floor in the fetal position while my son looks at me strangely.  Or I clam up and hide myself for a while. Tears fall at even the most benign comment.  I begin to believe more easily the lies of the father of lies.  The last night I sacrificed great amounts of sleep to work on academic studies, I was single (though chasing someone), my car ran well enough, and I didn't have a child to worry about.  And I nearly had a nervous breakdown.
Enough of those ramblings.  I want to reflect, a little at least, on the 18 months I have spent being a sort-of-stay-at-home-dad.  I say sort-of because the only times I have truly been at home full-time were late November 2013-early January 2014 and summer 2014.  I admit to both extremes which follow, as well as plenty of days in the middle.  Some days, leaving Caleb with a baby sitter may as well have been root canal appointments.  He was so sad to say good bye, as was I.  Generally those mornings were mornings of fun play for the two of us.  I hated leaving him.  The flip side has also been true.  Some mornings he is such a pill that I could not wait to drop him off.  There was the clingy whining, the generally mad about something, or even the "Dad, I want to help you study. Let me type on your keyboard while you're trying to work" kind of days.
Then there are days like yesterday morning.  Caleb found some toy cars and was mimicking the engine noise I make for him.  Those cars ran all over the couch and the floor and table.  I wanted to find such joy in such a simple thing. However, I felt I couldn't find much joy, at that moment, in anything.  My chemistry homework beckoned such that I felt I couldn't slow down for a simple moment.  This stuff needed to get done.  Fast.  Organic chemistry during the summer block schedule is not the route I would have picked.  Everything is flying by and I'm grasping at threads to understand the concepts.
I have discovered that if I have housework and homework which need to be done and Caleb is awake, I should do housework.  He is too fascinated by my pen, my laptop, my tablet, my textbooks, or my calculator to allow me to finish much of anything.  Unless I lock him outside on the patio. Usually he can play in his water table.  Sometimes I send him out with a Popsicle. That always makes things better.  Besides, he has observed me cleaning often enough that he can provide some small, real help.  He can take silverware out of the dishwasher and put it in the correct drawer, for example.  Housework trumps schoolwork when the baby is awake.  Most of the time.
I've discovered that if I focus and listen closely, I can actually understand what Caleb is asking me for.   Sometimes he wants to read a book.  Sometimes he wants  to wash his hands.  Generally he wants more milk, a popsicle, something to eat, or just to be held.
A child growing does not make them any less work.  When I first left the workforce, I found that I could accomplish quite a bit so long as I kept Caleb in one arm and let him see what I was doing.  He doesn't often want to be held anymore.  Now he wants a chair so he can see what I'm cooking, and maybe reach an exploratory finger to test the food.  Or the chair is a booster so he can try to stir my cooking. He plays much more independently now.  However, he still loves interactive play.  Eighteen months ago I could leave him someplace like the floor, his bouncer, or his bed and he couldn't do anything about it.  Now if he wants my attention, he comes to get me and leads me away by the hand.
Nap time is still magical.  The hour of bedtime doesn't often matter; he still wants out by 7 AM.
The real magic is watching him play.  A year ago, I could build something out of his Legos and he would demolish it with an agility I hadn't expected.  Now, he asks me to build something and I put together an animal.  He promptly makes noises for it and runs it around his room.  He has rocked a puppy to sleep then left the puppy in the rocking chair with a pillow or placed the puppy in his crib and closed the door quietly.  He tells it "Night, night" too.
I have seen such wonder and pure joy on his face.  It nearly made me cry. He played so nicely with a ladybug not long ago.  He loved the birds at Tracey Aviary.  I can't wait to take him to the aquarium.  He loves finding "fishies" in his books.
I mentioned something about being an adult.  The sociological signs of real adulthood have been interpreted as follows:

  • owning a car
  • receiving an education
  • getting married
  • having a family
  • buying a home
We bought a home. We have a young child.  We own my car.  We (Kayley and I) have been married for over four years now.  She is officially educated on a collegiate level.  I'm still working on that.  My associate's degree is in the mail system someplace, but it's the bachelor's degree that I really want. 
Being an adult also means being able to forgo certain things for various reasons essentially related to the greater good of yourself, your family, your job, or your relationship with God.  Sometimes you forgo something because God wants you to with the promise that your job will be performed better, your relationship with family members will improve, both of which will improve your relationship with God and all of this combines to improve YOU.  Sometimes, however, it's just plain hard.  I enjoyed my home teaching in Midvale, for instance.  I changed companions a couple of times, but I enjoyed it.  I have struggled just to make a good start here in Lehi.  I began my upper division courses for my degree and they have been challenging.  I wasn't certain of my summer school plans, but I felt subtly directed to take organic chemistry at UVU.  There are some side benefits, but it scared me to think about doing this.  I press forward because I know my wife appreciates the difficulty.  I began because I felt the Lord wanted me to.  It's still hard.  The good Lord asks us to do hard things.  I shouldn't complain about it much. I have ancestors all through my history who did much more physically demanding tasks.  School should be easier than that.
Lately I've struggled to feel the Lord and understand his will for me.  I used to have strong impressions with a deep meaning to them which resonated in my soul for a few days.  Now and then I feel only a subtle nudge.  Maybe the Lord is done making major adjustments to my life for now and we're moving toward the subtle.  The subtle stuff is hard too.  Sometimes I'm not sure if it's my intellect speaking, if it's the Lord guiding, or if the idea was there long before I consciously acknowledged it. If the idea leads to a better relationship with my family and the Lord, you can bet I'm pressing forward on it.  Even if it scares me.